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Unsuccessful? Modi first toyed with idea of dispensing with IAS babus way back in 2006

VRS Cowlagi
By Rajiv Shah
This is continuation of my previous blog on the role of IAS babus in the Government of India. At the end of the blog, I had said that it would be more pertinent to point towards how Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been toying with the idea of undermining IAS, replacing with what he may consider as professionals. I don’t know the degree to which he has been successful, but from available indications, he does not appear to have seen any major breakthrough in breaking the powerful IAS grip on the administration.
Let me recall, he first toyed with the idea of replacing IAS with professionals when he was chief minister of Gujarat. During my stint in Gandhinagar, lasting from late 1997 to dearly 2013, I did several stories on this, but I have preserved one of them, which I did in 2006 – it is headlined “Professionals to edge out babus?”; it points towards how the state government under him was planning to outsource activities in all departments for more “effective” results.
In his effort to reduce the power of influence-wielding IAS lobby, the Modi government in Gujarat decided to come up with a plan to “infuse” professional blood in all state departments instead of depending on ‘babus’ for policy making, whatever it may mean. For this, he formed a committee of officials and experts, headed by ex-bureaucrat VRS Cowlagi, a former IAS bureaucrat, who prepared a “manpower development plan” to find out how feasible this could be.
Those who formed part of the committee included two other IAS officials, Modi’s principal secretary Hasmukh Adhia (now retired) and state administrative reforms secretary Anita Karwal (now on deputation to Government of India looking after school education), and Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) faculty Biju Varkey, a labour relations expert. I recall, Cowlagi told me that his idea was based on the “experience” accumulated in the new public management system, experimented in New Zealand and Australia.
A three-page note, prepared by Cowlagi and sent to each state secretary, wanted specific answers to the question whether the department under her or him has been ‘outsourcing’ its activity. If yes, then how far has it led to ‘cost reduction’ and ‘client satisfaction’. A senior official, seeking to justify the Modi movev, even told me, “Outsourcing has become essential as government departments today lack expertise in the areas they operate in today’s world.”
Among the arguments cited in favour of the proposed administrative reforms included – babus had “outlived their capacity”, that such “outsourcing” would give the state better expertise in negotiating with World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans, and that decisions require knowledge of world banking as also local requirement, which the IAS officials “generally lack”.
Available facts suggest, Modi has tried to “implement” what he wants to do in the Government of India by seeking to sidestep appointment of joint secretaries, selected by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) through the civil services examination by considering to appoint experts from the private sector in government organisations on a contract basis for a period of three years.
Sources say, the trend to break the monopoly of IAS officers at the top began in 2014. Thus, more recently, Modi has been found to trying too empanel a number of non-IAS officers to become Union secretaries who are also “specialists” in their fields. In December 2019, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, in fact, even empanelled four non-IAS officers as secretaries and the trend could well continue this year as well.
Be that as it may, the issue is: Why does Modi does not seem trust IAS, a powerful administrative system worked out by none other than Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, whom he has been seeking to consider his icon – the Statue of Unity, the higher statue in the world, built under him in record time is a case in point. I have no ready answer to this, but the fact is, the Sardar was surely not part of RSS; in fact, he banned it, and didn’t trust it.
Despite six years of Modi rule, IAS, visualised by the Sardar remains largely secular its outlook, is wedded to the Constitution, even though as administrators they must follow the master’s policy vision willy nilly, something Modi cannot digest. From available facts, he and his junior right-hand, Amit Shah, want no interference of any kind, no file notings that question their push towards Hindutva, which most IAS (I have known majority of them in Gujarat) wouldn’t agree with. 
One can only see how Modi is lately trying to dispense with direct IAS recruitees in the Prime Minister's Office (AK Sharma and Rajiv Topno are no more with PMO), replacing them with promotee IAS officials, often considered to be more pliable.

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